NEWBURYPORT — “In the Heights,” the Tony Award-winning musical that tackles the powerful universal themes of family and community, comes to the Rupert A. Nock Middle School auditorium tomorrow through Saturday.
Middle school teacher Mike Pirollo said in a press release that the upbeat score and hip-hop choreography make “In the Heights” more relatable to today’s youth than “classic” musicals like “The Music Man.” Set in the Dominican-American Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, “In the Heights” depicts the struggles and dreams of characters over a three-day holiday weekend. The vibrant community is on the brink of change and so, too, are many of the characters.
When rights to the show became available for school productions in 2012, Pirollo said he jumped at the chance to bring the production to the Nock community.
“I knew that the show’s overall message would speak to middle school kids,” he said. “They’re all struggling to figure out who they are as individuals and where they belong, but it’s still important to keep that connection to home.”
With the re-introduction of Spanish at the middle school this year, Pirollo and other faculty members also felt that “In the Heights” would be an opportunity to reinforce the importance of learning a new language since 40 percent of the show is in Spanish.
“The current crop of Nock students hasn’t had exposure to Spanish, or any foreign language, since they started elementary school,” said Jacqueline Fricano, the school’s new Spanish teacher who has been working with cast members to teach the correct pronunciation of the Spanish words used in the script and lyrics.
Fricano and several guest speakers have also spent time explaining Hispanic-American culture, such as the importance of the “abuela,” or grandmother, to the family structure. “We made an effort to immerse our students in a culture most are not familiar with,” Pirollo said.
Many of the show’s songs, which range from pop to rap, are challenging for teenagers, Pirollo said. Local voice coach Martha Peabody has been working with the lead characters to help them master the songs.
The cast features 80 middle school students, including 20 lead roles. Music will be provided by a small orchestra under the direction of retired Newburyport High band director Joe Nuccio.
“The show’s music and dancing is upbeat and contemporary,” said Kristen Quinn, an eighth-grade science teacher and the production’s choreographer. “I think the audience will find it very energizing.”
Pirollo and Quinn believe that audience members will be able to connect with the musical’s characters no matter their ethnic background.
Performances are tomorrow and Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. They will be available at the door or can be reserved in advance by emailing email@example.com.